Defenseman Tommy Cross and goaltender Adam Morrison were among the Providence Bruins final cuts in advance of this weekend’s start to the minor league hockey season. Both will definitely be logging substantial ice time for the South Carolina Stingrays, though odds are, they will ultimately see at least a few slivers of AHL action in the coming campaign.
As the P-Bruins roster stands right now entering Friday night’s regular-season opener, there are six blueliners with at least a full year of professional experience. Together with rookies Torey Krug and Zach Trotman, they have combined for 422 NHL games-played and 721 AHL appearances for 1,143 total professional bouts.
Contrast that with the six defenders Providence iced for the 2011-12 season opener. Ryan Button, Marc Cantin, Colby Cohen, Marvin Degon, Kevan Miller and David Warsofsky had combined for 250 AHL games and 399 professional twirls altogether.
The return of familiar face Andrew Bodnarchuk the following week gave them at least one reckonable veteran, but barely upped the cumulative total of professional experience to the 600-game range on any given night until Thanksgiving.
The result was a fateful 8-14-2 start characterized by a rash of nights where the P-Bruins were routinely reduced to single-digit shots on goal in every period. Of the season’s first 69 full-length periods, Providence managed 10 or more shots in only 29 and was outshot in 36 of them.
With four returning regulars and a seasoned import in Garnet Exelby, the act of protecting and supporting goalies Michael Hutchinson and Niklas Svedberg promises to be more efficient in 2012-13.
Here is a closer look at the P-Bruins 10 blueliners and backstops to start this season.
As far as The Hockey News projects, if the NHL were operating as usual and Boston had its six defensemen plus a spare, Bartkowski would be the top outsider. In turn, he would presumably be the first in line for a promotion when an injury or illness struck the parent club.
Spending the majority of his first two professional seasons in the AHL, Bartkowski improved from a minus-17 as a rookie to an even rating last year. He is also arguably the most reliable playmaker among the P-Bruins point patrollers.
Being one of three Providence defenders with at least two full pro campaigns on his transcript, he should be at a point where conviction is second nature in all zones.
Button all but evenly split his rookie year between Providence and the ECHL, and could be bound for a similar arrangement depending on how he fares in comparison to the likes of Trotman and Warsofsky, in particular. With that said, he enters the season with an experiential upper hand and should generally be the top spare, at worst.
One of the more seasoned and sizeable members of the blue line brigade, Cohen still has yet to translate his collegiate production rate to the pros, but might not necessarily be asked to.
Based on the presence and recent performances of Exelby and Miller, the other bodily giants in the lineup, he will likely be a regular depth defender.
He can help his cause for at least as long as the lockout lasts by anchoring an improved Providence defense through exemplary leadership. One of the P-Bruins’ basic shortcomings last season, was a fairly youthful blue line brigade’s struggles to clean up their own zone, which led to fatigue and limited chances in the other end.
The 31-year-old Exelby, who has played 408 NHL and 280 AHL games, can be a single-handed difference-maker if he munches enough minutes and sticks to a relatively clean physicality.
That hot streak began around the third weekend after the starting position shuffled to him with Khudobin injured in March. He can now expect to get the nod for two games per week more often than not from November, when three-game weekends begin, to late April.
After posting a team-best 2.36 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 29 games, Hutchinson will be tasked with stretching that output over a greater breadth of action. A total hovering around 50 starts by season’s end is not out of the question.
How he handles the greater demand with little adjustment time other than mental preparation over the summer could be an X-factor in the P-Bruins’ push for a higher playoff bid.
Having played two games for the parent club upon signing out of Michigan State, Krug is a candidate to not only fill a vacancy, but be a nightly fixture on the depth chart. Depending on how he handles his first full professional season, there may be a specialist slot open for him.
Krug’s underprivileged size will doubtlessly be tested on the home front, but he could see a decent share of ice time as a power-play point patroller, as he tries to translate his college assets to the AHL.
As his first round of extramural action in North America, Svedberg saw roughly 20 minutes of action during the P-Bruins’ first preseason tilt and roughly 30 the following night. Until he has a little more seasoning or until an emergency caused by a Hutchinson injury or slump, he can expect to play no more than one full game per week.
With that said, the Bruins have stressed Svedberg’s success in the clutch in his native Sweden. Assuming his transition goes smoothly and he is not rushed into a prematurely heavy workload, Svedberg ought to be fortified with confidence if and when the P-Bruins start leaning on him.
Despite making more late-season appearances in 2011-12, Trotman ranks behind Krug among the fresh-out-of-college rookies in the hopes of seeing regular action in Providence. Krug has the watchful eyes of Boston’s front office on him after his two-game NHL stint.
Depending on the P-Bruins needs due to injuries, illnesses, etc., Trotman will likely fluctuate for six months between periodic active status, taxiing with the AHL club and getting in more game action with the Stingrays.
Will there be enough room for two undersized defensemen on any given game night?
Although he tallied a solid 24 assists in his first full AHL season, Warsofsky also tallied the lowest rating among P-Bruins blueliners who played more than half of the schedule. Better work in his day job in defiance of his stature can give him a critical upper hand and make him as key as the other returnees.